Best things to do in Kanazawa
Find out more about those top places in Kanazawa
While today Kanazawa is just one of a number of medium-sized cities that line Japan’s enchanting western coastline, in the 19th century the city was the country’s fourth largest. Fortunately for Kanazawa, the city did not industrialize and was spared the fire-bombing campaigns that brought the Japanese Empire to an end during World War Two. In this way, the city is a hidden gem that contains a treasure trove of wooden samurai houses, geisha districts, tranquil gardens and an impressive medieval castle. Today, the samurai district of Nagamachi is a dream for visitors while the geisha neighborhood of Higashi Chaya offers a glimpse into traditional Japanese culture. Beyond this, Kanazawa is a perfect gateway to the nearby Noto Hantō peninsula and Eihei-ji, one of Japan’s most enigmatic temples.
Constructed between the 1620s and the 1840s, the Kenroku-en gardens are one of Japan’s most breathtaking. Once belonging to a sprawling private residence, they are today open to the public and are modeled after the famed Sung Dynasty gardens of China that showcase the six aspects for perfection: seclusion, spaciousness, antiquity, water, broad vistas and artificiality. The gardens get very busy so arrive early.
Built in 1580, Kanazawa Castle is one of Japan’s most imposing. While much of the structure burned down in a fire in 1881, what remains are the towering stonewalls and numerous monumental entry gates that can be freely explored. During its heyday, the castle was home to fourteen generations of the Maeda Clan. For the best experience, make sure to take a walking tour of the complex and local guides will give you an insight into the fortress’ original splendor.
While Kanazawa has a reputation for traditionalism, it is also home to one of Japan’s most iconic contemporary art galleries, the 21st Century Museum. Opened in 2004, the gallery is free to explore (although some temporary exhibitions may have a small fee) and hosts a rotating selection of Japan’s most cutting-edge art. Even if you are not a fan of modern art, make sure to check out the building, which is arranged like a gigantic bento box.
After falling into disrepair in the Meiji era, the Gyokusen Inmaru Gardens have been revitalized thanks to an extensive reconstruction program. Originally laid out as a 17th century pleasure garden, the complex of tranquil lakes, dense forests and picture-perfect bridges are today free to explore. For the best experience, make sure to stop at the iconic Gyokusen-an Rest House for some herbal tea.
One of Kanazawa’s most enchanting areas is Nagamachi, which was once home to the city’s samurai warriors. The cobblestone streets, wooden houses and tranquil coy ponds have scarcely changed in centuries and make for an unforgettable sight. To get the most out of your visit, take a walking tour that will offer fascinating insights into the samurai lifestyle.
Packed with age-old tea houses where geishas would have once performed, Higashiyama is the perfect neighborhood to get a taste of traditional Japanese culture. Guided walking tours are available that will help explain the role of the geishas in imperial Japanese society.
The DT Suzuki Museum is one of Japan’s most innovative. Housed in a concrete cube set amongst a tranquil lake, it tells the story of Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, one of modern Japan’s most influential Buddhist philosophers who is often credited with introducing the concept of zen to the West.